On various programming language channels, there are ad-hoc expression evaluation bots that experienced people use to guide newcomers through the intricacies of the language. If you're new to Haskell, for example, what you can do is grab the logs for the past 3 years, grep for "> " (used to invoke the evaluator) and you have instant insight into how an experienced Haskeller's mind works. It can speed up your learning by a factor of 10 compared to reading papers / blogs / formal tutorials. I know because it did this for me.
< xQuasar> i just want to get kicked out of a bunch of channels for fun
13:20 < xQuasar> why is no one cooperating with me
Some great stuff in there :)
I leave a connection to Freenode running while I'm at work, in a few channels related to my job... so that during builds, or other short bursts of idle time, I can glace over and see if there are any questions I can answer. Likewise, I throw out a quick question of my own every now and then, when I'm afraid it's too subjective in nature to avoid being closed by StackOverflow-lawyers.
I've lost interest in general chat, outside of specific questions and answers. From what I've seen, the nicer communities are the newer channels. Ironically, they degrade over time as their underlying technology matures. You would think that channels like #clojure and #go-nuts would be populated by immature hipsters, while ##java would be made up of 40-something corporate types. However, I've found that those first two channels are welcoming and thoughtful, with interesting discussion always taking place... whereas ##java (even its mods) frequently sound like pre-teens yelling profanity at each other on XBox Live.
I have to mention #clojure on freenode for being an incredibly welcoming IRC channel. The discussions you will see can be very interesting, and the community is more than often willing to help. Living in Japan, I was worried about the timezones being an issue, but there seems to be people from different parts of the world on the channel, making it very nice.
To me, IRC has always been a "grapevine" tool, where etiquette, social pecking orders and gossip are shared amongst a smallish close-knit social circle. IRC always feels more like a social scene, and a distraction.
If anything, perhaps an IRC channel is useful for managing fluid, rapidly changing situations, where you might need an up-to-date, live information source, to use in immediate decision making (hence, why bot net command and control tends to be integrated into IRC programs), but, otherwise, chat logs from IRC usually read like a disorganized array of participant's various scattered streams of consciousness.
Are you looking for reading material, or a hangout?
As for channels I've found useful; all Freenode:
#go-nuts (Go language)
#mysql (no explanation needed)
#android-dev (for times when I'm scratching my head while writing Android apps)
> To me, IRC has always been a "grapevine" tool, where etiquette, social pecking orders and gossip are shared amongst a smallish close-knit social circle. IRC always feels more like a social scene, and a distraction.
This is certainly a problem is many IRC channels, but I have no idea what to do about it. One thing that is annoying is watching interesting conversation get disintegrated by the regulars taking over to talk about banal everyday topics like what they're currently eating or just ate, etc. If you hang out in any room for long enough you're likely to experience the "I've been here since..." pissing contest.
IRC is still massively useful though. Don't sell it so short.
Edit: I forgot to mention that IRC is also a base for lots of open source project collaboration. Look at the mozilla irc network for an example. Getting rapid responses to check your assumptions is really helpful if you have to touch an unfamiliar section of the code base for a patch.
But yeah, I would definitely go to IRC for help based on that experience
I'd love to know some good security ones to idle in; I've got a bit of experience in it and am trying to expand it some more, and would love a place to ask questions regarding web security and the like.
It's also where I found out about a handy tool for demystifying EXPLAIN output: http://explain.depesz.com/
Other than that one, I sometimes visit tech specific channels like #erlang or #chicagoboss or whatever I'm using... #postgresql is pretty good, #rubyonrails is a bit crowded these days.
Those are on freenode, there are channels for software users (e.g: photoshop) but on a different servers.
#debian on EFNet also has a great bunch of people.
#hackernews on freenode.
Nimrod's gang (including Araq) are very friendly and welcoming.
#julia and #d are very quiet though (except for the bots).
And #emacs -- well, that one channel which is lenient towards off-topic chats!
Remember, you can always drag others along with you and start your own channel.
That said, it's not all bad. I still hop in every now and then.